Shock occurs when inadequate blood flow threatens the function of multiple organs. Shock is a potentially life-threatening condition. The sooner it is treated, the more favorable the outcome. If you suspect someone is experiencing shock, dial 9-1-1 immediately.


Some causes of shock include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sepsis (infection of the blood)
  • Other severe infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Poisoning
  • Trauma
  • Heatstroke

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing shock. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • Pre-existing heart disease
  • Impaired immunity
  • Severe allergies


If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is because of shock. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician. The symptoms of shock depend on the cause.

Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Altered mental status
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased urination
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Slow and shallow or rapid and deep breathing
  • Lackluster (dull) eyes
  • Dilated pupils

Symptom of Shock

Dilated and Constricted pupil

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


When you arrive at the hospital, your doctor will perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Breathing assessment
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Other tests, depending on the cause of shock


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Breathing Resuscitation

If you are having trouble breathing, your doctor will clear your airway and provide the oxygen and breathing assistance you need.

Optimizing Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

You may receive an intravenous (IV) and/or blood transfusions to stabilize your blood pressure and heart rate.

Insertion of IV for Transfusion or Medications


© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


You may be given vasopressor medications, which constrict your blood vessels to increase blood pressure. Inotrope medications may also be used to increase your heart contractions.


To help reduce your chances of getting shock, take the following steps:

  • Prevent or control heart disease.
  • Avoid activities that put you at risk of falls or other injuries.
  • Carry an epinephrine pen with you if you have a severe allergy.


American College of Emergency Physicians

National Institutes of Health


Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Canadian Red Cross


Kumar A, Patel S. Focus on: shock and pressors. American College of Emergency Physicians website. Available at: . Accessed October 26, 2006.

Shock: first aid. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: . Accessed October 26, 2006.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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